Alphabet Charts

Beeing on the Move. Reflections on Migration, Litmus Community Space, Ansan, South Korea

Wolne Tłumaczenie, Galeria Labirynt, Lublin

The exhibition Loose Translation comprises projects: Alphabets by Dorota Podlaska, and Whatever by Agata Borowa. Both embrace the issues related to discovering foreign cultures, learning languages, opening to otherness and building interpersonal relations. What is more, both projects were developed in tight cooperation between the artist and foreigners, and required a longer preparation period. The outcome is a consistent exhibition, with two complementary projects amplifying each other’s message, while featuring at the same time a different distribution of accents among the aspects of the theme in question.

Dorota Podlaska carried out a series of large-scale boards, similar to those used at school to teach children alphabet. Boards divided into smaller windows, with letters calligraphed inside, resemble with their form a painted patchwork. Sometimes drawing takes the place of photography, sometimes only a word appears in an empty window. Boards were made in: Georgian, Japanese, French, Chechnyan, Ukrainian and Vietnamese. The alphabet, which establishes the fixed order of letters, was used by the artist as a pattern, framework, point of reference for the composition and form of the work. Each consecutive letter in a given alphabet set the order of key-words, selected by the artist’s collaborators. The words are used to refer to things, people, tastes, feelings, places – selected freely by Podlaska’s interviewees, related to the theme of abandoning one’s home country and acculturation in a new place. For instance, the artist asked her speaker to describe their favourite place. It could be a place from their homeland, emerging from the memory of a given person, or a place in the new country, Poland, somewhat more real, palpable, since located physically closer. The artist noted down the words dictated by her speakers in their mother tongues, learning their alphabets, and later illustrated the meaning of these words. Therefore sometimes she had to resort to her own imagination, at other times she grabbed some hints and went out to the city with a photo camera and a map. The French alphabet board consists exclusively of photographs and white boards, with no image to complement the written words. The city vistas include the edifices of the Catholic University of Lublin with the caption KUL, Maria Curie-Skłodowska University – Universite, photo of the alley Ku Farze in the Old Town marked by the word Espace, or an image of a garage wall in one of Lublin’s housing estates. The photographed wall features a graffiti made by the supporters of the local football team Motor Lublin. The artist’s speaker suggested here the word: Xenophobie. In turn, empty boards read: Marginal  osobny, Opportunite  możliwość, Solitude  samotność.

On the one hand, the project is personal and individual in character. The people who agreed to participate open themselves to the artist, recounting the experience of otherness and longing for home. Podlaska forms a shape for their memories, hopes and fears. On the other, the viewer receives the possibility to discover their own culture by looking at it through the eyes of a guest, a stranger. Therefore, the project reflects the process of establishing a common code, system of signs, concepts, images, points of reference.

Apart from private stories inscribed within the grid of letters, figures, cities and places, Podlaska is also interested in writing as a set of signs, the relation between sign and meaning. The forms of letters and written words attract her. Revealing the sources of inspiration for the project Alphabets, Podlaska mentions journeys to the Far East and her fascination with the beauty of letters from exotic alphabets. The artist often would not be able to decipher them, but she derived pleasure from the visual discovery. Lack of  understanding was accompanied by curiosity and excitement bound with the pleasure of looking and meeting the unknown.

Magdalena Linkowska,
Text from catalogue The Labirynt Dialogues, published by Labirynt Gallery, Lublin, 2012